Gators had a chance to make a difference

<img src= align=left>The scoreboard says the Florida Gators lost to Tennessee by two points Saturday night, the 30-28 margin provided by a 50-yard field goal with six seconds remaining by the same kicker who only minutes before couldn't negotiate the 19 yards of an extra point, his first PAT miss ever in a Tennessee uniform.

In reality, it should have never come down to James Willhoit being given a shot to redeem himself. While the Gators had their share of great plays, the game should have never been close. Florida had its chance to make far too many big plays both on offense and defense only to shoot itself in the foot.

As Coach Ron Zook pointed out after the game in his radio interview with Steve Babic, it was a team loss and there were errors on offense, defense and special teams, all of which could have could have given the Gators a win instead of opening their Southeastern Conference schedule with a loss. It wasn't just one play that did the Gators in, it was a culmination of errors by the players and some questionable calls by the coaching staff. There is plenty of blame to be shared by everyone.

Here are 18 moments in the game where the Gators had a chance to make a play that could have resulted in a different outcome:

  1. The Gators had missed tackles on nearly every one of Tennessee's 12 plays on an 80-yard scoring drive in the first quarter. The Vols kept the ball on the ground the entire drive, simply lining up and knocking the Gators off the line of scrimmage. The most glaring error by the Gator defense was allowing true freshman quarterback Brent Schaeffer to escape a sack on a third and three, six plays into the drive. Schaeffer turned a loss into a five yard gain that kept the drive alive.
  2. An offside against the Gators (declined) and a 15-yard personal foul penalty (accepted), both on the first play of the second quarter, helped set up Tennessee's second touchdown of the game. Instead of second and eight at the Florida 43 after a two-yard gain, the Vols got first and ten at the UF 28.
  3. Questionable play calling on Florida's last drive of the first half cost Florida at least a shot at a field goal. With first and 10 at the UT 49 and a little over a minute remaining in the half, the Gators tried a screen to Ciatrick Fason which lost a yard, then the Gators tried Fason on a running play on second down. The two plays took up a full 40 seconds. On third down, Chris Leak hit OJ Small over the middle for an eight-yard gain. Instead of moving the ball into field goal range on this drive, the Gators ended the half with a punt.
  4. A sack over Mike Degory and a holding penalty against Randy Hand on back to back plays torpedoed the Gators opening drive of the second half. The holding penalty negated a 12-yard pass to OJ Small that would have given UF second and seven. Instead the drive stalled as the Gators were faced with second and 29. .
  5. On Florida's second possession of the second half, Deshawn Wynn dropped what would have been a touchdown pass from Leak on a wheel route down the sideline in which he had gotten behind the UT secondary.
  6. On that same drive, with first and goal at the UT one, Leak had his feet stepped on as he pulled away from center resulting in a three yard loss.
  7. On second down, with Chad Jackson and Bubba Caldwell both open in the end zone, Jackson thought Leak's pass was meant for him. He leaped high but couldn't make a catch, tipping the ball away from Caldwell who was open in the corner.
  8. On third down, the back judge incorrectly ruled Jemalle Cornelius dropped a touchdown pass from Leak. Replays showed JC had control of the ball in his hands when he hit the ground. The ball didn't bounce away until there was contact with the ground. The pro rule is the same as the college rule: the ground can't cause a fumble or an incompletion.
  9. On fourth down, Matt Leach pushed a chip shot 21-yard field goal to the right that would have given the Gators a 24-14 lead with 3:48 remaining in the third quarter. The Gators drove 73 yards and used up 3:16 of clock but came away with no points.
  10. The Gators got zero pressure on true freshman Erik Ainge, who completed seven of nine passes on a 14-play, 80-yard drive that tied the score at 21-21.
  11. The touchdown on that drive came on an Ainge pass to Bret Smith, good for 23 yards. Florida was in cover two with deep responsibility belonging to safety Corey Bailey. Smith outjumped Bailey to make the catch at the four yard line, then walked into the end zone. Ainge had all day to make the throw.
  12. The Gators followed the tying touchdown with a bad series. The offensive line broke down on second down with Leak throwing the ball away to avoid a sack. On third down, the Gator receivers didn't come back to the ball when Leak was forced to scramble. The three-yard loss that Leak took was a coverage sack.
  13. Following an 81-yard Leak to Chad Jackson touchdown pass, the Gators had a chance to stop Tennessee on third down, but a pass interference call against Jarvis Herring gave the Vols new life. Instead of punting, the Vols drove 10 more plays to get a touchdown that would cut the Gators lead to 28-27.
  14. On that same drive, with fourth and six at the Gator 47, Florida dropped eight into coverage. Tennessee ran a three-man route. Ainge hit Tony Brown in the middle of the field for a 32-yard gain.
  15. Two plays later, Ainge would connect with Jayson Swain for a 13-yard touchdown pass. Earl Everett missed a tackle at the nine yard line that would have forced the Vols to kick a field goal. There were at least two other missed tackles before Swain got into the end zone.
  16. On Florida's ensuing series, poor clock management gave Tennessee precious seconds that would allow the Vols to get the win. Florida took over with 3:25 remaining in the game. A Leak to Fason pass got nine yards and Fason got two on second down to give the Gators a first down at their own 31. Before the Gators could get their next play off, however, they were forced to call a time out as the play clock wound down to zero with 2:02 showing. The Vols called their last time out one play later.
  17. The clock was stopped once again after third down on an absolutely horrendous call by the back judge who gave a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to Dallas Baker. Baker and a Tennessee defensive back were a full 20 yards from the play when the whistle blew. The Tennessee defensive back slapped Baker in the face and Baker retaliated. The incident took place right in front of the zebra who called a personal foul on Baker without at least calling an offsetting personal foul on the Tennessee defensive back. Because the incident had no outcome on the ongoing play, the official should have made no call at all. The penalty not only gave Tennessee an additional 15 yards of field position, but it also stopped the clock and gave the Vols a full 25 extra seconds.
  18. The Gators reverted to the drop eight, rush three philosophy on the drive that gave the Vols the game winning field goal. Tennessee kept two backs in to block, giving Ainge all day long to throw to three receivers running free in the secondary. He hit Chris Hannon for gains of 21 and seven yards to set up the game winner.

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